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Cook: Hunters can sense a change in the air

Sam Cook is an outdoors writer for the Duluth News Tribune.

You can feel the change coming over the land. It's subtle, but all the signs are there.

The dog has a little more spunk in her gait on the cool of a late-August morning. It's almost as if she knows what lies ahead. Dogs require no calendars.

Bow hunters are getting more religious about their daily shooting regimens, their season now less than a month away. Fighting off the mosquitoes, they make it a point to get out and put some arrows in a target, refining their techniques, smoothing their releases. Everything will have to be right if the opportunity presents itself this fall.

The old men of deer camp have begun making reconnaissance trips up to the shack. Mostly, they go alone, because they have the time. They unlock the place and take in a deep breath of deer-shack aroma — a trace of last fall's woodsmoke, the shack's aging timbers, musty sleeping bags. Maybe there's a whiff of dead mouse in there, too. Time to check the trapline.

Who knows for sure what an old-timer does during these late-summer visits to the camp? Clears a little brush, likely. Checks the roof. Inspects a stand or two. Or maybe just sits. And thinks. He sits and thinks of all the years gone by, what it was like when he was young in that country. All of the anticipation, the trigger-itch, the desire to measure up.

All of that is gone now. Shoot a buck? He might, if the chance arises. But not necessarily. Who would know if he passes one up? That doesn't seem so important now. Still, he understands why it's important to those coming up behind him. He wants to make sure they have their day. He will pass along his wisdom, put them in the best stands, hope something walks by.

And, yes, he wonders, too. He wonders how many more deer camps he has left. Oh, he's doing fine. His knees balk a little when he climbs his ladder stand, but he makes it. Still, he knows something could happen any time to change all of that. He's seen it happen to too many of his contemporaries.

But enough of that, he thinks. Better check the propane tank, see if a refill is in order. Maybe lop a little brush on the way to the Swamp Stand. Top off the bird feeders.

He is in no hurry. He tries to make each task last as long as possible.

The pheasant hunter who lives up north has no place to go, no shack to inspect. So, some evening, he calls the farm family where he hunts out West. Asks how they're doing, how the kids are, how the cattle are looking. Eventually, they may talk about the bird numbers, too. But, honestly, he just wants to know how their lives are. How's Bailey doing at college? How will Carolyne's basketball team be this year? They have become a part of his extended hunting world now. The hunter likes the fact that his love of pheasant hunting has broadened his circle of friends and his sphere of geography. He cares about distant rainfall totals and bushels-per-acre and current land values.

That's what the hunters are up to on these days of diminishing sunlight. Looking ahead. Checking gear. Keeping in touch.

Their time is coming.